Masqueraders represent the most during Carnival yet they are the least represented among Carnival stakeholders.
One may think that mas players are represented by bandleaders but in fact they are not. In more than two decades of mas-playing, I was asked once to tick a box and that was only a couple years ago when K2K Alliance, the new Carnival fashionistas, asked masqueraders via its interactive website what they would prefer as their road anthem. Otherwise, there has been not a single attempt to seek masqueraders’ opinions on decisions that bandleaders, the NCBA, NCC or djs make ostensibly on behalf of “their masqueraders.”
That K2K question, incidentally, was one loaded with a history of corruption, by which I mean that the choice of what djs play at the various stages on Carnival Monday and Tuesday is a realm of mystery and mafia, an unknown zone where mas players’ joy is often stolen after having trekked through the streets, many of us saving those precious drops of energy for the judging point where we could properly dance a real costume.
The choice of the road march should be the choice of masqueraders, not djs and bandleaders, and the process must be made transparent. It is not complicated to execute; in the same way that thousands voted for “Differentology,” masqueraders should have the opportunity to choose the road march.
All the feteing, all the shows, all the activity of Carnival climaxes with the masquerade; without masqueraders there would be no masquerade. Yet there is no avenue for masqueraders to influence the parade route or even, as in the case of the Socadrome this year and Mac Mas Monday two years ago, whether or not they want to parade off the official route and participate in additional performances.
In 2012, Brian MacFarlane paraded the official route, crossed the judging points required to qualify his band for the Band of the Year title, then took his masqueraders, all in full costume on a Carnival Monday to the Jean Pierre Complex for a show that people paid hundreds of dollars to view.
This year, the largest BBF bands are, mercifully, charging a nominal fee of $25 which says the money made at-the-door is not the real source of these bandleaders’ mas revenue, and they have been forthright: theirs is not competition mas but a moving fete on the road; they don’t care about competition; they care to have a good time.
But just as MacFarlane did not consult with his masqueraders in 2012, Bliss, Yuma, Tribe and Harts apparently did not consult with theirs either so the move to the s tadium, which I happily envisioned as corralling the BBF majority to do their thing while I get more space, less intimidation, and perhaps a less congested route to do mine in a real costume, is unlikely to generate the benefit I forecasted and more likely to increase the madness on the parade route.
Masqueraders and bandleaders exist in a unique business arrangement. The former pays an arbitrary amount of money to the latter (prices go up just so, there is little that helps the masquerader/consumer understand how the prices are determined). In exchange, the bandleader provides costumes, music, security—and whatever additional trimmings for which individuals are willing to pay extra—and escorts masqueraders through the parade route for two days.
If the bandleader wins, he/she receives the prize money, basks in the glory, benefits from other work generated by his/her designs and/or victory; the masquerader goes home, no longer a party to the transaction and with no additional benefits.
The bandleader decides on routes, with no involvement by masqueraders; decides on the music to be played at the judging points, again with no consultation with masqueraders; does not show a single item of paperwork about the amount of money earned; use masqueraders’ images all over the world to generate further income, with no consent from masqueraders; speaks on behalf of “my masqueraders” but is not in conversation with his/her players; and more recently take decisions on masqueraders’ behalf about routes, competition involvement and Savannah-crossing with no input from masqueraders who, incidentally, all make sizeable non-refundable deposits.
It is, essentially, an exploitative business arrangement.
For years I have been suggesting in this space that there is need for a creative approach to a masqueraders’ association to represent this diverse and essential body of people. A review of the online presence of the major bands will evidence the techno-savvy of the bandleaders/businesspeople. That technology could easily make possible what might be regarded as a cumbersome exercise.
Unravelling the arrangements around the masquerader is not to fuel Carnival confusion but to tease out the elements of an a priori relationship between the masquerader and the Carnival, the masquerader and the bandleader, the masquerader and the tourism industry, the masquerader and the music and the masquerader and the public.
If, whenever this conversation gets going, the masquerader agrees that he/she is handed the short end of the stick, maybe then bandleaders and official Carnival controllers would acknowledge the thousands who are the Carnival.